Acton Institute Powerblog

PBR: Nonprofits and New Media

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In response to the question, “What form will journalism take in the age of new media?” I came across this Reuters story highlighting a proposal to allow newspapers to file for nonprofit status. The legislation was put forward by Maryland Senator Benjamin Cardin, (D-Md.) and he suggests the nonprofit action could be a possible solution for smaller community minded newspapers.

I’ll let somebody with more expertise regarding print journalism take a crack at the deeper consequences of such an action, but it seems to me that it wouldn’t assist with what should be the main goal of media, securing a free and independent press. At least many of the arguments put forward for saving papers is tied to the notion that they serve in the capacity as a civic watchdog over government. Obviously you can’t serve that goal as effectively with a tax-exempt status.

Nonprofits are having to sort through their own serious financial struggles as well, so the financial benefits may not be much of a saving force in the end. I am sure there are a lot of papers that are surviving and thriving in the free market even now and their credibility will look even better when put up against a paper dependent on government recognition for their status.

Here is a story from Real Clear Politics which alludes to a greater fear, at least when it comes to even more federal involvement in the private sector, and that is “the legislation is a starting point for discussions already under way on ideas to help the industry.”

Ray Nothstine is opinion editor of the the North State Journal in Raleigh, North Carolina. Previously, he was managing editor of Acton Institute's Religion & Liberty quarterly. In 2005 Ray graduated with a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in Oxford.


  • Re: the ability of nonprofits to criticize or serve as “civic watchdogs” over government:

    It seems your argument would apply to churches as well. Should churches give up nonprofit status so as to be free from government interference?

  • Ken

    The other day when I commented on New Media I mentioned a web site and the travels it had taken me through its opaque advocacy for broader media ownership. Nearly all the efforts they report and advocate for are related to leftist ideas. I’m not an alarmist but do see this kind of thing as a way to get some body — the tax payers — to finance your fun.

    Ask around your broad circle of friends and you’ll likely learn that many are “working” for a non-profit this or that. I know it’s true with mine. Good works are usually honorable but you can’t argue that a lot of stuff today is part of the economy which would have been nothing but a casual conversation or stern warning in day’s past. I’m talking here about counseling. It’s a huge industry. And schools. The country spends around $10,000 per pupil for its public education and harvests as Kevin Schmiesing says in a nearby piece a largely illiterate crop of eighteen year olds.

    Maybe non-profit isn’t such a great idea. After all, the reference is only to the structure of the organization. Non profits don’t have savings accounts, they spend everything they can beg. Is that good stewardship? Is that effective planning that anyone in the profit world would advocate? I don’t think so.

    No question about it, who will read what ever is put out there is up for grabs in my book. The Congress and Obama proved one thing with last week’s drama. It’s not what you read, it’s what you learn that counts. And to a substantial degree, the simpletons whom we have allowed to be our leaders have proven time and again that they have learned nothing of endearing value to man’s core principles or the search for Truth.

    As for churches, there’s something to be said for them to bolt the present system. The history of The Episcopal Church is an interesting case. Once the American Revolution was won, the King stopped sending money for the parishes he once supported. Finally the congregations re-assembled, claimed the abandoned buildings and forged a revised liturgy absent references to monarchs. It all went well until the elders forgot who the real King was. Now the historic churches in places like Virginia rent out for weddings and meetings in order to pay the bills. Just like the cathedral of St Paul in London where you drop a pound or two if you want to see inside.

    For profit churches? An interesting idea. May be a spot where my wife could market her disposable purificators.

  • Neal Lang

    I thought that most already were “non-profits”! Perhaps if these failing newspapers would hire management that understood can championed the free market system instead of socialism and a control economy, they might better serve their employers and their shareholders by cutting back on the “red ink” in favor of more “black ink”.

    Unfortunately, most of the print media emulates academia in its staffing and philosophy so profits seem a foreign concept to them.

    As with candle makers and wheel wrights, when your time has come, nothing, short of nationalization and bailouts can save you.

  • Ken

    Just in case somebody is reading this stuff, I improperly referenced the cost of public education in my comments above. I should have made it clearer that $10,000 is the national average annual amount paid for K-12 education.

    In D.C. that number is $22,500. It is clearly a non-profit enterprise.